I grew up always knowing about God. I knew He existed and controlled everything, and I believed in Him. Growing up in Belize played a part in this as many families there, including my own, were a part of the church. Because of this, I grew up going to church and hearing the gospel. Looking back, I can clearly see that I knew of God, but I did not know Him. I didn’t understand who He was, and I didn’t know His love. I also didn’t know what it meant to follow Him.
Sure, I had faith. I prayed the prayer, and I can remember calling on Him for help when life was becoming “too much.” However, my faith wasn’t strong because deep down, I didn’t understand what it meant to follow Jesus. I also wasn’t pursuing Him or making Him the center of my life—I was caught up in the gain and standards of this world instead of setting my eyes on the greatness of Jesus. Faith was something I was told to have, but I was not aware that I needed to seek Jesus and mold my heart after Him. My “faith” was in my head and not in my heart. It was an intellectual faith, not a living faith..
It was around the middle of high school when I descended into an emotional hole out of which I couldn’t seem to dig myself. I can remember feeling lonely, like I had no one to whom I could turn. That feeling of loneliness began to take over, and for a while, I drifted through life in a zombie-like state. I lost sight of God. I began to feel like He wasn’t there anymore. Relationships became rough at home and in school. My parents weren’t in a good place with each other, and relationships with our extended family became estranged. At school, my friends and I started drifting apart, and it became harder to form relationships with other people my age. It felt as though my world was crumbling around me and there was no one to turn to.
With no one to tell me otherwise, I began to blame myself for a lot of what was going wrong in my life, and I isolated myself from everyone. The feelings of hopelessness and loneliness took hold of me. The weight of my emotions became too much to bear that I not only tried to suppress the feelings through burying myself in my work, but I also turned to self-harm as an outlet. I pushed myself too hard to be perfect, and when I wasn’t living up to this standard, I would let out all my anger and frustration through hurting myself. It became a cycle that I couldn’t see ending any time soon. I placed my identity in my grades, and I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough.
With my identity placed in something as superficial as my grades, I had no absolute security, and if my work did not live up to my self-set expectations, I was not myself. I began to feel like I did not know who I was, and this was one of the most unsettling and hopeless feelings I have ever experienced. The hopelessness and pain continued to grow, and so did my addiction to self-harm. The addiction consumed me, and I couldn’t see God anymore. I felt as if He had abandoned me. Losing sight of God felt like the air was being sucked out from inside of me—I felt lifeless even though I was still alive.
I remember some nights I would lie awake craving a relationship with God. I wanted so desperately to cry out to Him and talk to Him, I wanted Him to let me know He was still there, and I wanted to know that I could find rest after what I had done. There was a part of me that knew He could take away my loneliness and show me mercy and rest, but I did not know how to turn back to Him. I kept thinking, “There’s no way God could ever look at me with love and grace after what I have done to myself.” For the longest time, everytime I thought about a relationship with God, I felt unworthy. To me, there was nothing I could do to win back God’s love and mercy. Everytime I thought about God, my self-harm came to mind and it was like a shackle I couldn’t break, the shame that came with it hung heavy, and I felt as if I would never break free of it. I was a lost sheep. However, little did I know, my relationship with God wasn’t based on anything I could do or provide. It is solely based on who He is.
I am reminded of this truth by a passage in Ephesians, which reads:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
After feeling like I was in the dark for so long, I began to see some light when I received an acceptance letter to my dream university, Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). Getting accepted to SCAD seemed like a second chance from God. I can’t really explain it but getting that acceptance letter felt like a response from Him, however, I still didn’t know how to go before Him.
During my second week at SCAD, I went to ‘Fall Fest,” an event hosted annually that brings together all the current clubs and gives students the opportunity to sign up for them on the spot. I was walking around looking at the different club booths when this girl came up to me and asked if I wanted to join Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). Not knowing what RUF was, I followed her, learned about RUF, and signed up. The first large group was Wednesday night. I was scared to attend, not because I was afraid of socializing and meeting new people but because it would be the first time in a long time I had gone before God. However, by the end of the first worship songs we sang, the heaviness and fear in my heart was replaced by hope and peace and I left the large group that night for the first time knowing God was there. I went back week after week and my entire perspective on faith and God changed. I was hearing the same gospel that I had heard since I was a child, but this time it was different—I was beginning to understand it, and not just intellectually.
Being surrounded by other Christians, receiving mentoring, and making an effort to hear God’s word every week began to help me realign my faith. I began to understand who Jesus was and what He came to do for this world, and through knowing Jesus, I finally opened my heart and received His love.
I vividly remember that I was getting ready for class one day when it hit me. I was saved; I wasn’t lost anymore. I didn’t have to carry around my mistakes or my past with me. I could lay it down at the feet of Jesus and rest easy. My identity would never have to be placed in anything of this world; it would be as steady and constant as the Savior who gave His life for my sins. Jesus bore His scars so that I wouldn’t have to bear my own. I dropped everything and began crying because the beauty of the gospel had consumed me. For the first time in my life, I understood what the gospel means. I understood who I was and where my identity was found. I am a child of God and nothing could separate me from His love. Paul speaks to this in Romans:
No height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It was that day I felt God speak over me and say, “Kaitlynne, I know you and love you. I have seen you fall and stumble and though I felt far, I was here all along. You are mine and nothing has or will ever change that.” For the first time in a long time, I felt peace and mercy radiate through my body and I made a commitment in my heart to continue to pursue Jesus, build a relationship with Him and in that moment, accepted Him as my Savior and companion.
Right now, I can look back at my life and see how present God was in every aspect. When I felt like I couldn’t go on anymore, He was the voice in the back of my head urging me to keep pushing, He was there when I got my acceptance letter to SCAD, He was present when the girl approached me and asked me about joining RUF, He was there speaking through my campus minister during every large and small group and He is present right now as I sit and write this article.
I’m stronger in my faith than I’ve ever been because of His work in me. I am able to look back and see how present God was along the way. I’m beginning to understand that I needed those months of distance and distress so I could truly understand and accept the beauty of the gospel in my life. I’m not perfect but I’m on a journey with God, one that is breaking down the walls I’ve built, attacking the lies the enemy made me believe and making room for love, vulnerability, grace, and intimacy with God.
To anyone feeling like they can’t run back to God or are distant from the Lord, please know that Jesus loves you still. He has never left your side and He never will. He longs for a relationship with you, and if He has chosen you, despite your messiness and sin. He has chosen you solely because He loves you and wants a relationship with you. You do not have to earn His love. When Jesus says, “It is finished,” He means it. It really and truly is finished. He conquered sin and death so that they may not have a hold on you. On the cross Christ experienced what it means to be separated from God so that you wouldn’t be separated from Him. Christ receives His wounds so you wouldn’t have to receive them. God is always with you, and my prayer for you is that you have the courage to run to Him, trust Him, have faith in Him, and are able to surround yourself with people who will lead you back to Him.
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
The Lord is with you, and you are found. He loves you. Trust your Good Shepherd.